|mad as a hornet
||He was mad as a
hornet when I saw yesterday.
|made a hit
||Her cake made a
hit at the party.
|make a beeline
||go directly and quickly
||She will probably
make a beeline to the travel section.
|make a bundle
||make a lot of money
||He could make a
bundle on the stock market this year.
CLEAN BREAST OF IT
to admit and explain some wrongdoing; to confess something
Compare to: wipe the slate clean; get something off (one’s)
Whereas make a clean breast of it concerns a wrongdoing, get
something off one’s chest refers more generally to one’s
troubles, worries, or concerns.
The expression suggests that guilt is kept in one’s breast
(heart) and that by revealing one’s guilt, one cleans one’s
1. The thief admitted to the judge that he was guilty and
told him the whole story of his crime. He made a clean
breast of it.
2. The children had lied about taking the candy without
permission. They eventually went to their father and made a
clean breast of it, telling him everything.
|make a day of it
||stay the entire day
||We decided to
make a day of it at the park.
|make a dent
||It seemed like we did
not even make a dent towards completing the
||It does not seem to
make a difference if we talk or not.
|make a go of
||achieve success in
||He is trying to
make a go of the business even though he is losing
|make a killing
||make a lot of money
||You can make a
killing in Las Vegas.
|make a living
||make enough money
||You cannot make
a living at your present job.
LONG STORY SHORT
to summarize; to tell only the main points
1. To make a long story short, I think your idea is
2. He tried to make a long story short, but she wouldn’t let
|make a mistake
||make an error
||Try not to make
a mistake on the exam.
MOUNTAIN OUT OF A MOLEHILL
to exaggerate the importance of something; to react more
strongly to a situation than is reasonably called for
A molehill is a very small pile of dirt made by a small
animal, a mole, which digs tunnels underground. To think
that a molehill is as large as a mountain is to greatly
1. I know you feel hurt because Jean didn’t invite you to
her wedding, but it was a very small wedding, with just
family members and very close friends. You’re making a
mountain out of a molehill if you get upset about it.
2. The clerk gave me the wrong item, then he charged me the
wrong price and gave me the wrong change. Should I complain
to the manager about him, or am I making a mountain out of a
|make a name for
||She is trying to
make a name for herself in the field of literature.
|make a pass at
||make romantic advances
||She tried to
make a pass at him and lost her job.
|make a point of
||have the intent of
||You should make
a point of doing your homework every night.
|make a run for
||I think that she will
make a run for it as soon as the class
|make away with
||The bank robber tried to
make away with the money.
||a pretend game
||The children were
playing make believe.
|make do with
||You have to make
do with milk instead of cream.
to manage financially; to have enough money for one’s basic
Synonym: get by
Compare to: keep (one’s) head above water
Both keep one’s head above water and make ends meet mean
having just enough money but no extra, although the former
conveys a feeling of desperation. Keep one’s head above
water can also mean survival in situations other than
financial, whereas make ends meet is limited to financial
1. We can hardly pay the rent, buy enough food, and keep the
children in clothing. We’re barely making ends meet.
2. Roger was unable to support his family on his teacher’s
salary. He made ends meet by taking a second job.
HEADS OR TAILS OF (SOMETHING)
to understand something
The head is the top or front of something, while the tail is
the bottom or back. In use since the 1600s, the phrase make
heads or tails of something means to understand it from
beginning to end (top to bottom).
The expression is usually used in the negative or in
1. I can’t hear you clearly because the telephone connection
is bad. I can’t make heads or tails of what you’re saying.
2. First Louise turned the book one way, then the other. She
couldn’t make heads or tails of the picture she was looking
(ONE’S) BLOOD BOIL
to cause someone to become extremely angry
Compare to: hopping mad; hot under the collar; boiling point
The expression suggests that when one is very angry, one’s
blood gets so hot that it boils.
1. I had told Fred never to borrow my car without permission
again, but he did it anyway. That makes my blood boil.
2. The secretary could hardly believe what one of the office
workers had said about her. She was angrier than she could
ever remember being before. It made her blood boil.
(ONE’S) MOUTH WATER
to make one salivate in anticipation of something good
The expression is often used in reference to something good
to eat (sentence 1), but it can also be used figuratively
1. The chocolate in the display window looks delicious. It
makes my mouth water.
2. Charles had been saving his money, and now he was so
close to being able to buy the sports car he wanted, it made
his mouth water. He could practically taste it.
to be the deciding factor in whether something succeeds or
Compare to: turning point
1. The Smiths were about to sell their house, but the buyers
didn’t like the color. The Smiths decided to give it a new
coat of paint at no extra cost, in case painting the house
might make or break the deal.
2. Susan decided to study for the test through the night.
She knew that her grade on this test would make or break her
chances of getting admitted to graduate school.
(SOMETHING) FROM SCRATCH
to make something by putting together the separate basic
components, rather than using a mix or kit or buying
Compare to: start from scratch
The expression make something from scratch is usually used
to describe baked goods (sentence 1). Something made from
scratch is considered to be superior to something pre-made,
because it is probably made more carefully and with the best
1. My mother never buys cake mixes or ready-made cookies at
the supermarket. She always buys the flour, sugar, butter,
and eggs, and makes cakes and cookies from scratch.
2. George didn’t use a kit from a store to build a playhouse
for his children. Instead, he designed the playhouse
himself, bought all the materials he needed, and made it
to meet standards; to be satisfactory
Synonym: up to snuff
Compare to: cut the mustard
Whereas make the grade and up to snuff can be used to
describe both people (sentence 1) and things (sentence 2),
cut the mustard is usually used with people.
1. Of the ten semifinalists in the competition, only three
made the grade to become finalists.
2. At the end of many manufacturing processes, people check
the quality of the goods produced. If the final products
don’t make the grade, they have to be thrown out.
to leave, usually quickly
Compare to: beat a hasty retreat
1. We have no reason to stay around, so let’s get going.
Let’s make tracks.
2. The boys were playing catch when they accidentally broke
one of Mr. Carson’s front windows. You’ve never seen two
boys make tracks as fast as they did.
up your mind
||most important street
||The best hotels in Las
Vegas are located on the main drag.
||Try not to make
waves around the office.
to wait out one’s time by doing the minimum and without
The expression originates from the military command “Mark
time!” in which soldiers march in place, i.e., move their
feet up and down (go through the motions of marching)
without moving forward.
1. Richard isn’t interested in making a career out of the
army. He’s just putting in the minimum amount of time,
marking time until he can leave.
2. Carol doesn’t particularly care for the job she has now,
so she’s decided to mark time until the job she really wants
||I am maxed out
at my work and need to rest.
||The boss means
business when he says to finish the project.
||You need to
mellow out and enjoy life.
TO (ONE’S) MADNESS
explanation; forethought or logic
Antonym: rhyme or reason, no
1. There is some method to her madness. It’s just difficult
to understand her way of doing things.
2. There is a method to my madness. I like to work on
difficult jobs in the morning, when I have the most energy.
I save all the simple, boring tasks in the evening, when I
need less brain power.
the ability to make money or to be successful at everything
one becomes involved in
The expression originates from the story of Midas, a
mythological king of Phrygia, who was given the power to
turn anything he touched into gold.
1. Everything Linda does is a success. She really has the
2. When it comes to investing money and buying stocks, they
have the Midas touch. It seems like everything they buy goes
up in value.
MILLSTONE AROUND (ONE’S) NECK
a burden or handicap, or a source of worry or concern
Synonym: albatross around (one’s) neck
A millstone is a very heavy stone on which one grinds grain
in a mill. If a millstone were tied around one’s neck, it
would be a great burden.
1. My elderly parents’ house is a millstone around my neck.
They are unable to keep it up and I have to do all the
repairs myself or pay someone to do them for me. I wish they
would sell the house and rent an apartment instead.
2. This year’s taxes have become a millstone around my neck.
If I had just gotten them done early, they wouldn’t be
stressing me out now.
(ONE’S) OWN BUSINESS
to not inquire about, become involved in, or interfere with
other people’s affairs
Synonyms: none of (one’s) business!
Antonym: stick (one’s) nose in
The expression mind your own business is a common response
of annoyance at a prying or rude inquiry. It is a very
direct, even rude, response, and is only used between people
of equal social standing.
1. Sarah started to ask them some very personal questions.
They told her to mind her own business.
2. They were just sitting on the bus bench, minding their
own business, when a stranger approached them and started
telling them his life story.
to miss an opportunity because one is too late
1. I saw the furniture advertised on sale, but I didn’t get
to the store in time to buy it. I missed the boat on that
2. Daniel plans to apply for college at the last possible
moment. If he doesn’t allow himself enough time, he’s going
to miss the boat.
extra money; money to spend however one likes
The expression suggests that one has so much extra money
that one can afford to burn it.
1. The company managers are taking us all out to an
expensive restaurant for lunch. They must have money to
2. I have to be careful how I spend my money. I don’t have
money to burn.
to play like a monkey, i.e., climb on or examine things with
Compare to: monkey business; clown around; horse around;
Monkey around emphasizes curiosity or the climbing aspect of
play whereas horse around emphasizes the physical nature of
play and clown around means to act silly. Fool around is the
most general of these and could substitute for the other
1. The children have to play in their bedroom. The living
room is not for them to monkey around in.
2. Steve likes to monkey around with old cars to see if he
can fix them.
suspicious activity (sentence 1) or mischievous activity
Synonym: hanky-panky Compare to: monkey around
1. The boss wasn’t sure, but he suspected that there was
some monkey business going on with the company accounts.
2. The children had become very quiet in the playroom and
their mother decided it was time to see what kind of monkey
business they were up to.
THAN MEETS THE EYE
some hidden aspect to a situation
1. I can’t see any reason why this man on the telephone is
trying to give me a free vacation. There’s more here than
meets the eye.
2. When Jerry had received a letter saying that the company
was letting him go, the reason the letter gave was a lack of
work, but Jerry had been busier than ever these last few
months. He thought to himself, “There’s more to this than
meets the eye.”
(SOMETHING) THAN (ONE) BARGAINED FOR
more than one expected
The expression is often used in a negative sense, i.e., more
money, more trouble, more work, etc. than one expected or
1. I agreed to join a book club because the saleswoman said
I didn’t have to buy any book I didn’t want, but I was
shocked when I learned I had to spend a certain amount of
money every month. It was more of a commitment than I
2. I thought you were looking forward to being in the army.
Was it more work than you bargained for?
THAN ONE WAY TO SKIN A CAT, THERE’S
there are different ways to accomplish the same thing; there
are different possible solutions to a problem
1. There must be some way to raise enough money to buy a
car. We’ve put all our savings together but it isn’t enough.
Still, there’s more than one way to skin a cat. I’ll get a
2. My friends asked me how they could accomplish something
that seemed impossible. I told them that they simply hadn’t
looked at all the possibilities. I told them there’s always
more than one way to skin a cat and that they would
eventually find a solution.
HEAVEN AND EARTH
to try very hard to do something
The expression suggests how hard one would have to try if
one tried to move things as big as heaven and earth.
1. The young man was accused of a terrible crime. His
parents were convinced that he was innocent and swore they
would move heaven and earth to get him acquitted.
2. Linda’s daughter is getting married on Friday, the same
day Linda gets back from an out-of-town business trip. She
will move heaven and earth to get to the wedding on time.
||eat a lot
||I think that we should
munch out at the buffet.
to my ears